“Be dynamic, strong, interesting!” That is what we as actors keep hearing throughout our careers. We hear it so much that finally it becomes our truth, something to aim at and to set as a goal in our careers. We push and tense and rush and squash our partners in order to get the most attention from the director, or whoever may be able to look at our work.
Have we ever thought that those adjectives may not be something to aim at? Have we ever thought that being weak is not a negative thing? What if trying to be interesting is not interesting at all? I started questioning this mindset after several events in my training and work, where I tried to push through to be the toughest, in other words to please my director, or an imagined outside eye who I meditated lurking in the corner of a rehearsal room. I went through a vocal chord injury, constant pain and tension in my body and finally through something we can call an artistic breakdown, where all I believed in in theatre seemed to harm me, and my own work was turning into a violent and hurtful thing.
I started reflecting upon the stance we take when evaluating actor’s work. It seemed to me that the qualities regarded traditionally as masculine, were preferred over the feminine qualities. I had been training in a singular world, where a big part of me was considered bad by the public opinion, myself included. This is not to say that as a woman I am naturally a feminine being, but that we seem to disregard half of the potential we have.
Inspired by this idea I started exploring feminist poetics and found Hélène Cixous’s work about the binary oppositions. She briefly explained, how our system of thinking forces the feminine qualities to an inferior position, and raises the masculine qualities above them. Also, how our whole language and thinking consists of two counterparts: the good and evil or more precisely: the masculine and feminine. This quote from her book The Newly Born Woman really stayed with me: it explains simply and precisely, what is wrong with our thinking:
Where is she?
Form, convex, step, advance, semen, progress.
Matter, concave, ground – where steps are taken, holding- and dumping-ground.
Through dual, hierarchical oppositions. Superior/Inferior. Myths, legends, books. Philosophical systems. Everywhere…
From this moment on I have started to actively train myself to see the actor’s work differently: not as a fight or a war where I need to prove to be tough, but as a place with multiple opportunities, where different qualities can play together and not replace each other. I am also training my eye not to judge other performer’s qualities to favour the masculine, but to understand the beauty of soft, gentle, weak, subtle and tender. In movement, the round shapes and gliding qualities can be extremely beautiful and the indirectness win the directness with its multiplicity and its unpredictability. Also in vocal training, the key in producing sounds from our unique human body is to listen, not to be the loudest. Putting this understanding in practice takes a long time, and requires a real will of changing the aesthetics that are currently in use.
Spindrift Theatre has taken this point of view onboard, and we aim to embrace the multiplicity of the actor’s work, with all its different qualities regardless of their gender-relation. This approach is present in our workshops and directing, as well as our individual work as actors. We hope to open up new possibilities for the actors, and to make the silenced parts of our voices and bodies to speak.